A bit of empathy goes a long way

If your organisation isn’t practicing customer empathy, it’s practising customer apathy. That doesn’t just sound bad from a PR point of view, it simply doesn’t make good business sense. Apathy (or the act of not thinking empathetically) leads to a lack of perspective, transactional relationships, and poor outcomes – we’ll expand on this below and showcase some brands that have leveraged customer empathy to great success.

According to a study referenced in Marketing Week, only 30% of marketeers display affective empathy skills – that’s no higher than the average person in the UK – despite it being a key skill for the job. The good news is, science suggests we are all hard-wired with empathy from birth, it’s just that some people find it harder than others to flex their empathy muscle. Check out this quiz to see how empathetic you are, and if you could do with a helping hand, read on to get our top tips to encourage more empathy in your working day.

Three consequences of customer apathy

1 / Lack of perspective: You see the world only from your point of view.

Why perspective matters: Let’s be honest, you, your team and the love you have for your brand, are not reflective of most people to whom you wish to sell your product/service – seeing things from different perspectives is critical.

Who’s got it right?

In 2019, the letterbox flower delivery company gave customers the opportunity to opt-out of Mother’s Day marketing. They realised that while the day was important to their brand and brought joy to many, it brought sorrow to others. The response was hugely positive and began The Thoughtful Marketing Movement.

2 / Transactional relationships: You have a purely functional relationship with people, so your brand becomes interchangeable with the next.

Why relationships matter: Like any relationship, when people feel seen, heard and understood, it can have a positive impact on trust and loyalty.

Who’s got it right?

Early 2020 – Coronavirus hit and many small businesses had to shut their doors. eBay realised that providing a little relief and support to businesses who needed to move from the physical to virtual world would go a long way and set up “Up & Running” – a free ecommerce platform, with marketing and advertising tools and shipping discounts.

3 / Poor outcomes: You create new products and services that have no relevance to the people you serve.

Why outcomes matter: If no-one buys what you’re selling, how’s your next performance review going to go?

Who’s got it right?

The kitchen and homewares company are on a constant mission to take everyday objects and activities and find ways to make things simpler, easier and more thoughtfully designed for the end user. Their empathetic approach to design is nicely summed up on their website: “We notice problems people don’t realise are problems until we solve them.”

Six tips to encourage empathy

Empathy is like a muscle – the more you work it, the stronger it gets. With that in mind, here are our six tips to encourage more empathy in your working day:

1 / Be curious

Immerse yourself in a world you wouldn’t normally inhabit: listen to different music, read blogs about topics that wouldn’t normally interest you, read a newspaper with a different political view to yours, watch people shopping, read internet forums and twitter posts.

2 / Check yourself

Leave your judgement and assumptions at the door – keep self-orientation low when you want to empathise with others.

3 / Stop and observe

At least 70% of communication is non-verbal – when watching/listening, pay attention to what someone’s nonverbals are saying about the situation.

4 / Actively listen

Focus on the what and the how. Listen deeply to what is being said, and notice what’s not said. Listen to how it’s being said to understand feelings and emotions.

5 / Question to clarify

Question to understand not advise. Address the elephant in the room if you think there is an underlying tension or unsaid issue – help bring to light something they haven’t been able to articulate themselves.

6 / Create personas

Bring your customer to life in whatever way works for you – name them, create a moodboard of their home, make a fake Instagram page and follow they handles they would, fill in an empathy map to create a shared vision with your team.


If you’d like to discuss how to bring more empathy to your latest research, planning or strategy challenge, then get in touch.

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